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Socioeconomic and sex inequalities in parent-reported adolescent mental ill-health: time trends in four British birth cohorts.

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Tibber, Marc 
Patalay, Praveetha 
Ploubidis, George B 


BACKGROUND: Studies using symptom-based screeners have suggested that mental ill-health has increased in adolescents in recent decades, however, few studies have tested the equivalence of their instruments, which is critical for inferring changes in prevalence. In addition, little research has explored whether socioeconomic position (SEP) and sex inequalities in adolescent mental health have changed over time. METHODS: Using structural equation modelling, we explored SEP and sex differences in harmonised parent reports of emotional and behavioural problems, using data from four UK birth cohorts: the 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS'58; n = 10,868), the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS'70; n = 8,242), the 1991-92 Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC'91; n = 5,389), and the 2000-01 Millennium Cohort Study (MCS'01; n = 9,338). RESULTS: Compared with the two earliest cohorts, members of MCS'01 had higher latent mean scores on emotional problems (both sexes), and lower scores on behavioural problems (females only). The associations between four indicators of SEP and emotional problems were strongest in MCS'01, with housing tenure having the strongest association. All four SEP indicators were associated with behavioural problems in each cohort, with housing tenure again more strongly associated with problems in the MCS'01. Mediation analyses suggested that the increase in emotional problems occurred despite broadly improving socioeconomic conditions. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that parent reports of adolescent emotional problems, but not behavioural problems, have risen in recent generations and this trend is not solely due to reporting styles. A failure to address widening social inequalities may result in further increases in mental ill-health amongst disadvantaged young people.



ALSPAC, Socioeconomic inequalities, behavioural problems, emotional problems, sex inequalities, time trends, Child, Humans, Male, Adolescent, Female, Cohort Studies, Longitudinal Studies, Birth Cohort, Socioeconomic Factors, Mental Health

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J Child Psychol Psychiatry

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Economic and Social Research Council (ES/K000357/1)
MRC (via University College London (UCL)) (MC_PC_20059)